Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is arguably the most widely admired American fantasy novel of the past 50 years. The book's elegant diction, geographical sweep, and mounting suspense are quite irresistible. Earthsea-composed of an archipelago of many islands-is a land of the imagination, like Oz, Faerie, or the dream-like realm of our unconscious.
Earthsea may not be a "real" world but it is one that our souls recognize as meaningful and "true:' Actions there possess an epic grandeur, a mythic resonance that we associate with romance and fairy tale.
Songs, poems, runes, spells-words matter a great deal in Earthsea, especially those in the "Old Speech" now spoken only by dragons and wizards. To work a spell one must know an object or person's "true name," which is nothing less than that object or person's fundamental essence. In Earthsea, to know a person's true name is to gain power over him or her. "A mage;' we are told, "can control only what is near him, what he can name exactly and wholly:'
Understanding the nature of things, not possessing power over them, is the ultimate goal of magic. Indeed, the greatest wizards do all they can to avoid using their skill. They recognize that the cosmos relies on equilibrium, appropriateness, and "balance"-the very name Earthsea suggests such balance-and that every action bears consequences. To perform magic, then, is to take on a heavy responsibili ty: One literally disturbs the balance of the universe.
Read more: An Introduction to A Wizard of Earthsea